In this post-apocalyptic world, there is a large community living in the ruined city of Chicago protected by a huge wall. The people there are divided into factions to keep things equal and organized. They are typed either Abnegation (the selfless) Erudite (the intelligent) Dauntless (the brave) Amity (the peaceful) or Candor (the honest). Teens, at a certain (read: unclear) point in their life take a test to see which they are, and then are allowed to choose any of the five to spend the rest of their life in. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) was born into Abnegation, but always had a difficult time being selfless. On the day of the test she's afraid she won't test into Abnegation, but she's also afraid she will. Both her fears come true -- turns out she's selfless, and intelligent, and brave. They call it being "divergent" and in this community, it's not exactly something to be proud of.
I liked this movie more than I thought I would -- in spite of a few things, and because of a few things I didn't really expect, and occasionally both those things are the same things. Like the plot -- it's halfway unique and halfway silly. And after the setup described above, it's small, episodic, and focused on Beatrice (or Tris) for quite a while as she struggles to fit into the fraction of her choice, before moving on to the big stakes. Not very much happens during that time that struck me as being very important, but at the same time I enjoyed those parts most because they were the most infused with character development -- something I didn't expect a lot of, and was therefore rather impressed with.
|Tris and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) at the reap-- I mean... the choosing ceremony?|
At any rate, with anyone less capable, this film would be a dismal little failure, as she carries the film very well, and almost entirely alone. There is a very large supporting cast, but none of the characters quite reach the heights of the leading lady. Theo James probably carries the next greatest amount, as the mysterious and devastatingly handsome Four (I assume that's how he's described in the book) but I wasn't too impressed with either acting or characterization. The mainly impressive thing involving him is how long it took his and Tris' relationship to turn romantic. Seriously -- it was better than you'd think.
|Still, anyone could see it coming a mile away. But guess that's not the point.|
I don't have much to say about the rest of the cast. None of them were bad or anything, really they were mostly just underwhelming, and the bigger the actors name the more underwhelming the impact. So smallest impact; Kate Winslet, then Ashley Judd, Maggie Q (actually, she was cool) and Tris' group of friends. But remember there's more overall character development than in your average teen movie, so they do all have their moments. Biggest name and biggest impact of supporting characters has to be Peter, mostly because I just saw Miles Teller in the Footloose remake (which he stole) and have been wanting to see him and Woodley in The Spectacular Now, so I paid more attention to him -- but then he did maintain it with a bold and interesting character, and, maybe a little bit stole some scenes. Or all of them. One of those.
|This being the best still I could find of him is good proof that he wasn't supposed to make quite so much an impression (directly above Christina there (Zoe Kravitz)).|
A number of things about this movie teetered on the edge of Quality, threatening to fall over into the pit of Teenage Ridiculousness, but ultimately only one aspect fell -- or rather it took a running leap -- the use of sappy modern pop music; what was up with that? When the soundtrack wasn't singing it was fine. You know how I know that? Because I never even noticed it. But every time some auto-tuned female would start crooning out "feels" I became severely distracted, and then would glance around, suspicious that someone was judging me, either for not feeling the feels or for not being twelve. Then it would end, and I would return to perfect comfort, enjoying Woodley's performance, and searching faces to see if Peter is in this scene.
After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to go see Divergent without having first read the book. I was hoping (and also fearing) that seeing the film would make a fan out of me, but I am barely less indifferent to this franchise now than I was three days ago; still curious to read the first novel, still unsure if I'll do anything more. But I enjoyed the movie for itself, in spite of its occasional diversions into typical teenage romance and drama; in spite of its not being very thought-provoking, like -- you know -- (okay fine; The Hunger Games. There, I said it.) And because of more than I expected -- like it actually doesn't steal so much from the teenage fiction playbook as to make me ashamed to say I liked it. And the acting that ranged from better-than-necessary to great, and the story and story-telling was simple, fun, involving, and even pretty exciting. Divergent falls only barely short of living up to its name.